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Thread: Helvetia (and Helbros) German DH Site Update

  1. #1
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    Helvetia (and Helbros) German DH Site Update

    Hello again,

    I have added a new page to my site with my research into Helvetia German military DH watches.

    https://www.helvetiahistory.co.uk/ge...ary-dh-watches

    First off I would like to thank members here who have given me information and pictures of their watches for this and other pages of the site. There are lots of pictures I have gathered over a long while in this update and if I have used one of yours without checking I apologise and I hope you forgive me and allow me to use them to further the promotion of Helvetia watches and I will of course provide attribution, links etc for anyone who wants me to. I have tried to check with everyone where I know the owner but it's impossible with everything.

    I hope you find it interesting and as a taster I have reproduced part of the page here where I discuss Helvetia DH watches marked with the number 1007. These are sometimes marked with 'Reliable Stores' or 'Finlay Straus' and sometimes are branded 'Helbros'.

    I describe the watches first then some theories around them. The bit I reproduce below is where I add my interpretation. I think it may hopefully spark some discussion.

    Thanks. Carl.





    These then are the facts as I see them regarding Helvetia 1007 DH watches:

    • These DH watches, Helbros and Reliable Stores/Finlay Straus, form a distinct group. They are all marked 1007. Their DH serial numbers occur between the first two styles of DH marked Helvetia watches and the 1756 marked cases.
    • The DH serial numbers in this range are mixed between the two types, Helbros and Reliable/Finlay Straus.
    • All 1007 marked 3190 case watches, whether DH numbered or not, were supplied to US based retailers, they were all marked in order to comply with US import tax regulations.
    • The earliest any DH watches, Helvetia or otherwise, were apparently manufactured is 1942.
    • Helbros a US company, founded by a Russian born American of Jewish ancestry who was a vocal supporter of the war against Germany, was extremely unlikely to be supplying Germany with watches, especially after Dec 1941 when Germany declared war on the US!
    • Helvetia also supplied non-DH watches to Helbros and Reliable Stores during the war the serial numbers of which are clustered together indicating production over about a one month period in 1943.
    • Some Helbros and Reliable Stores watches are fitted with calibre 820 movements which appear to have only been manufactured for a short period during 1943.
    • The Helbros branded watches are consistent with each other in their style of marking on movements and cases, and they look to have been professionally added during the manufacturing process, as are the style of DH numbers on these watches.


    So taking all of the above into consideration what do I think is happening with these watches.

    I think we can completely rule out Helbros supplying these watches to the German army and I think the consistency of the Helbros watches also rules out ‘Franken’ watches put together from Helvetia cases and Helbros dials and movements (apart from the obvious examples without Helbros case markings as mentioned). The possibility that correctly marked and supplied Helbros military style watches have had a DH number added to them is more likely but again the grouping of the DH numbers and their consistency in style with the other 1007 marked Helvetia DH watches means that a faker would need to be very clever to get all this right.

    All the evidence seems to be pointing in one direction to me. It seems clear that the 1007 marking denotes a batch of watches to be supplied to the US. The question then of course is why are most of them marked with German army DH numbers? I think it’s possible these cases were manufactured and marked for delivery to the German army but were diverted, by Helvetia, to the US. Why did this happen? Perhaps a problem with payment, or over-production, or they got a more pressing or more lucrative offer and needed extra cases quickly, or perhaps by the time these watches were ready there were political or logistical issues with supplying watches to Germany.

    They may have been surplus stock sold after the war but I think it is most likely that this happened earlier as it seems there were many, possibly thousands, more Helvetia DH watches manufactured after this batch and the non-DH civilian watches supplied to Reliable Stores and Helbros by Helvetia have 1943 serial numbers. The use of the calibre 820 movement also would seem to date these watches to 1943. The demand for Swiss watches in the US actually increased sharply during the war, apparently as many as 5 million were imported during 1942, as the US watch making industry was completely turned over to war work and the only way a civilian could get a new watch was to buy an imported one. The US unions were very concerned about the de-skilling of the watchmaking workforce and made representations to congress. Getting the watches to the US wasn’t that easy however and the president of Helbros himself, William Helbein, actually made a statement in 1944 that there were 100 aircraft waiting to speed goods from Switzerland and that this stepped up supply was welcome after three difficult years for the jewellery industry. Maybe due to these uncertain supply lines there was a short notice requirement to provide watches to fill a shipment. The numbering on the back of the watch would mean little to those who received them in the US, they are just a serial number as far as they are concerned. I think there is a good possibility that these watches were part of the same shipment as the group of non-DH marked Reliable Stores and Helbros marked Helvetia pilot’s watches from 1943 referenced above.

    I know it seems ironic, and perhaps even beyond belief, that watches originally made for the Wehrmacht should end up being supplied to an allied country in the middle of the war but I think this scenario fits the facts better than any other. It does explain how all of the Helvetia DH watches marked 1007 ended up with US import marks, no other*manufacture’s DH watches are marked this way as far as I am aware. It also explains why the Helbros watches have so many white dials and centre seconds movements, that’s what they ordered from Helvetia. The altered dials of some of the Reliable Stores watches I think also tends to support that they were not surplus and the Type 1 'Semca' marked watch with altered dial perhaps hints this had already happened at least once before. As an aside a lot of ‘new old stock’ Helvetia dials from the 1930s/40s appeared on the market a few years ago and Helbros dials were mixed among these demonstrating, I think, that Helvetia were assembling watches in Switzerland for Helbros during this period.

    We will probably never know the full story but I welcome any feedback.
    Last edited by enfield; 19th August 2019 at 15:06.

  2. #2
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    Helvetia (and Helbros) German DH Site Update

    Thanks Carl, I知 looking forward to reading and enjoying this over the weekend.

    I知 off the check the serial number of my Finlay Strauss marked watch, with a very strange dial.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by alfat33 View Post
    Thanks Carl, I知 looking forward to reading and enjoying this over the weekend.

    I知 off the check the serial number of my Finlay Strauss marked watch, with a very strange dial.
    Hello Simon,

    Hope you had a chance to look at it over the weekend. I'd be interested to see what your watches serial number is as all the other Reliable/Finlay Straus date to 1943.

    Thanks.

    Carl

  4. #4
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    Helvetia (and Helbros) German DH Site Update

    I did Carl, very interesting. I値l take a closer look at the serial this evening. I don稚 think mine is the Type 3, not sure what it is really. Mine has definitely had the dial painted, although someone had a reasonable go at it. The hands less so, but I think they are the original ones.



    I have a few other photos on my phone.

    Last edited by alfat33; 19th August 2019 at 15:45.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by alfat33 View Post
    I did Carl, very interesting. I値l take a closer look at the serial this evening. I don稚 think mine is the Type 3, not sure what it is really. Mine has definitely had the dial painted, although someone had a reasonable go at it. The hands less so, but I think they are the original ones.



    I have a few other photos on my phone.

    Thanks Simon.

    Interesting watch, the case does look very similar to a 3190, does it have a screw back? Inside case markings are not ones I've seen before. Are the two photos both inside the case back? Does it even have a serial number, they don't all unfortunately. Someone has definitely had the paintbrush out but I agree the hands are original.

  6. #6
    Master
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    Carl, here is the caseback in full, a screw back as you thought.

    There is no other serial number that I can see.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by alfat33 View Post
    Carl, here is the caseback in full, a screw back as you thought.

    There is no other serial number that I can see.
    That's a shame. I haven't seen that case before and it is possible it has had a movement and dial transplant, we know the dial has been fiddled with. Helvetia did use some cases without their markings if they needed something specific.

  8. #8
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    Just an update on this. In the past I had noted a Helvetia DH watch marked 1007 with a civilian style dial and movement marked to General Watch Co. I though this was probably down to a movement and dial swap at some point.

    Recently however I have found another example with exactly the same dial and marked movement and DH number only 400 apart. This cannot be a co-incidence and is another strong pointer that the 1007 marked Helvetia DH watches were re routed to the civilian market. The evidence points to this happening in 1943 from movement details and other non DH watches supplied to the same retailers.

    I have slightly updated my page on Helvetia DH watches to take this into consideration.

    Carl






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